2019 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Mark Johnson, Wake Forest University

Mark A. Johnson

Teaching Professor of Finance

Wake Forest University

It’s one thing to be knowledgable, but great teachers need to be approachable and caring as well, and that’s exactly how Mark Johnson’s students describe him. “Mark came early to the midterm exam to check in on every study room to ensure each student was ready for the exam, felt prepared, and answered any last questions,” one nominator said. “He encouraged all students (with finance background or not) to learn the material well and inspired many of us to continue to take finance electives. One of the best professors I’ve had in my 20 years of education.”

On top of teaching classes and mentoring students, Johnson has presented his research in financial modeling, complex data analyses, and financial markets to institutions including The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Midwest Finance Association, and the University of Dayton’s Redefining Investment Strategy Education Forum. His work has also been featured in media outlets such as the Baltimore Business Journal, Bankrate.com, FoxBusiness.com, and The Daily Record.

“Probably the greatest professor I’ve had the pleasure of knowing,” said another nominator. “His teachings are clear, concise and practical. He’s incredibly personable as well as knowledgeable in the field of finance. I feel fortunate to have the pleasure to attend his classes.”

Current Age: 35

At current institution since what year? 2014 as a visiting faculty member and full-time in 2018

Education: Ph.D. and MS in Financial Economics from the University of New Orleans, MS in Finance from Florida International University and BS in Finance from Florida State University

List of current MBA courses you currently teach: Financial Management and Advanced Financial Management


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… My parents encouraged me to utilize my passion for finance and extroverted personality to show others that finance does not have to be intimidating.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?

I have a real estate investment trust project currently under review and a financial literacy project that I am starting. The most significant discovery that I made was a co-authored publication that was nationally recognized with the Abramson Award from the National Association for Business Economics. We shed light on key issues that Americans struggle with as it pertains to understanding financial markets and making day-to-day decisions with their money.

If I weren’t a business school professor… If he wI’d be an entrepreneur. My parents owned McDonald’s franchises when I was younger and I saw firsthand the hard work needed to run a business successfully. It taught me and my siblings about taking calculated risks and not being afraid to fail.

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?

I think that students enjoy coming to my lectures. I regularly talk about what is currently happening in financial markets and how it relates to our course topics. This and some light-hearted jokes help make three hours seem like 30 minutes (sort of).

One word that describes my first-time teaching: Anxious

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: The networking from teaching MBA students for a few years will be amazing. I’m proud of the roles that my former students have gone on to attain since graduating.

Professor you most admire and why:

He’s not a professor in the formal sense, but he has taught me everything that I know about the application of finance and accounting and that is my dad. He always challenged me in good ways and reminded me, “Mark if you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?

Business students are eager and motivated. If you can show them why something matters in business and how to use it, they will devote the necessary time to mastering the material.

What is most challenging?

Staying up to date. I can keep up with what is happening in global financial markets, but FinTech keeps us finance faculty on our toes by making sure that we are aware and can explain some of the most recent developments in the marketplace due to advances in technology.

Using just one word, describe your favorite type of student: Inquisitive

Using just one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Apathetic

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Reasonable. I show students the types of problems that I will expect them to solve on exams. My rule is that if at least one student earns a perfect score, the exam was doable.


What are your hobbies?

I am a car enthusiast and going to Stuttgart recently was like being a kid in a candy store. I also enjoy leisurely walks through Costco, traveling, and earning/maximizing credit card points.

How will you spend your summer?

Teaching. I have always taught during the summer. I like it and I do not do well with long breaks!

Favorite place(s) to vacation:

New Orleans and England. New Orleans is where I was born, so I get to see some of my family while I am there. And London is awesome and the countryside outside of London is beautiful.

Favorite book(s):

Rich Dad Poor Dad: What The Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not by Robert Kiyosaki

The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for The Thoughtful Investor by Howard Marks

What is your favorite movie and/or television show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?

Billions on Showtime. It’s a sensationalized version of running a hedge fund and has some nice cars, houses, planes, and watches on display regularly.

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: Jay-Z, but I have been listening to a lot of Drake lately.


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… More finance courses offered of course! Seriously, more electives and fewer required courses so that students could tailor their degree to fit their needs.

In your opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at doing what?

Reminding their employees how critical they are to the success of the organization/company and giving them the tools and resources they need to grow and be effective in adding value.

Faculty and administrators say:

“In my 20 years at Wake Forest, Mark stands out among all the faculty I have worked with as the best of the best.  His energy and passion for teaching is exceptional, and his ability to make finance understandable and enjoyable, for those that do not have a finance background, is masterful.  Students often choose his second-year elective, not because of the course material, but because Mark is teaching it.  In addition to his extensive knowledge, Mark is just a great guy with a big presence in the classroom.  Our program is better because he teaches in it.” – Kevin C. Bender, Executive Director, MBA for Working Professionals

“There are many professors that are qualified to teach finance but not many professors can make it fun and relatable to real life the way Mark does. His mix of theory, real world application and the method of delivery in which he teaches the material is what makes him a great teacher. He has a great sense of humor and makes the 4 hours of lecture very enjoyable. Last but not least, despite being a great professor he’s a super nice guy and actually cares about the students learning the material, he’s not just going through the motions to get through it. He’s also tough in terms of grading and personal accountability yet extremely fair. Anyone that doesn’t learn in his class is because they tried hard not to. I’ve had dozens of professors in my collegiate career and Mark is easily in the Top 3 for me.”

“Mark Johnson is abundantly deserving of this recognition. His engaging teaching style, enthusiasm for the subject, and sincere interest in students’ learning and well-being are just some of the reasons he is an exceptional professor. The topic he teaches on is not a simple topic, yet he makes it fun and interesting by making it relevant, applicable, and assigning projects that have us learn about what is currently going on in the stock market/finance as a whole in different industries. He breaks down complex matters and finds ways to creatively teach us ways of learning the material. He makes finance fun!”


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